The Art of Charles Chaplin (1925) 🇬🇧

February 16, 2024

He alone of them all has made himself independent of words, speaking to millions in the language of pure movement, the old pantomime tongue.

by E. R. Thompson

He has a vocabulary of gesture so complete that the absence of titles in his films is a fact unnoticed; we should have sworn, looking back on them, to many. It is hardly possible to believe that such a thing as the sermon of David and Goliath in “The Pilgrim” could have held a whole audience intent for many minutes without a word uttered, but it is so.

Chaplin does not have to speak to he understood, even to be subtly understood. He has only to be.

Along with Grock, he is the world’s great improvisor. His speech is spontaneous, thrown out, as it were, in the course of the film. He speaks with all the homely objects that lie nearest his hand, with a flower, a hat, a cake, a rolling-pin.

His is essentially a miniature art. Its very soul is intimacy.

His materials of speech are the materials of every-day life, the thing’s of familiarity and home. In that way he speaks intimately, directly, to every man, woman and child in his world audience.

He brings comedy into our own kitchens, romance into the heart of the common street.- Chaplin has captured the world because he calls to the world with all the simple things, the little things, that the world knowns and loves.

He has created, with his shabby clothes and drab backgrounds, a figure whose inmost meaning is mirrored in the secret places of every heart, and all the time as we laugh we love him and sympathise.

We love the tramp, and we love the man.

The man is wistful, pathetic, a mystery. Somehow we feel that, for all of himself that he has given, the real Chaplin, the real tragic Chaplin, will always be hidden in darkness and in silence.

The tramp we love because he is universal, a part of every life. He is the eternal, whimsical, child-spirit of humankind. He stands for the contrasts of life, its shadows and its sunshine, its smiles and its tears, its beauty and its grotesquerie.

Contrast, and a sense of instinct frustrated, shines out in every movement of the tramp. He has much to say, and will not say it; he is a man, and yet he is the universal child. Everywhere he is out of place, yet everywhere is a world too small for him. He is the restless adventurer, a thing of the elements, and lives still in a Golden Age where romance lies half-hidden in common things and to tilt at windmills is still a pastime for brave souls.

Puck — and Don Quixote… A philosopher in fairyland… Chaplin, the man and the mime.

Out even in the mime there are two Chaplins.

On the one hand there is the comic Chaplin, a man of keen perception, a technician, an intelligence without emotion. But this comic artist is not the ultimate Chaplin. If it were so, his appeal, his genius, would become narrow and localised. We should admire him for his power, and for that strangely-contrasting delicate craftsmanship of his, but we should not hold him to our hearts.

It is the other, the sentimentalist Chaplin, that has won us and the world.

The comic Chaplin is the master, the sentimental Chaplin the friend. The comic Chaplin has made a science of improvisation. He wastes no time in, as it were, playing for position or creating atmosphere, but he draws his theme clearly in a scene or two, wanders on — in the science of entrances he has no peer — and strolls with apparent aimlessness. quite deceptive, towards preconceived end.

The sentimental Chaplin improvises from the sheer joy, sheer pity, of living. He is a man of pathos and a humorist, seeing further into hearts than the other Chaplin, and moving them more deeply, a sheer emotion without logic or science.

The art of Chaplin is there for all to see who have watched his evolution in his films. First the comedian, the comic artist, tentative, not quite sure of himself. Funny, I grant you, aware that he is funny, but by no means aware just how funny he is. Then, there emerges gradually the comic artist, a man who knows his powers, playing on his audience with the sure touch of a master; the comedian has become a humorist, with all the subtlety that the word implies. From “Tilly’s Punctured Romance” to “The Kid” there lies the story of the evolution of a genius.

Humorist and comedian together make up the sum of the pantomimist Chaplin that we know. One is powerless, unfinished, without the other. And behind them both stands the dim, tragic figure of the man Chaplin whom we know not, whom we shall never know, never fully understand, even though we watch his mimic figure passing across the screens of the lifetime of a world.

The Art of Charles Chaplin (1925) |

Collection: Picturegoer Magazine, April 1925


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